There's Gold in Your Website's Server Log
Many Webmasters have never bothered to view their website's server log. Ignoring your
server log is like flying with a blind pilot. You may still be cruising along, but
you have no idea where you are or where you're headed. If your website is on a free
host, you probably don't have access to the server log. However, if you pay for your
web host, or if you own the server, you almost always have some access to the server log.
In this article, you'll learn what kind of information a typical server log provides,
how to analyze that information, and how to use that information to steer your website
in a direction for growth and success.
The actual data in the server log is just that, data. Data is of little use without an
application to compile, categorize, analyze, and turn it into useful information. The
power of server log analysis software varies depending upon the web host, and it's not
related to how much you pay for hosting service. I have seen some very low budget web
hosts with powerful server log analysis software, and some expensive web hosts that
provide only a limited utility.
The importance of the server log analysis software is second only to up-time reliabilty
when it comes to web hosts. A web server log can tell you who is visiting your web site,
where they're coming from, what operating system and web browser they're using, what pages
of your website they are viewing, and much more. A smart webmaster performs a regular
monthly analysis of the valuable information contained in the server log.
Some webmasters brag about the number of "hits" their website receives, but hits themselves
are not important. For example, when a search engine spiders your website, it generates a
hit for every page it visits. There are ways to generate millions of hits on a website
without anyone ever actually viewing a single page.
The important statistics are page view hits and unique visitors. Server
log analysis software should tell you how many times each page was viewed. Anaylyzing the
popularity of individual pages tells you where to place your most important advertisements,
and what kind of new content you should add to your website.
The king of all statistics is the number of unique visitors your web site receives. When
it comes to selling advertising or joining the most exclusive affiliate programs, a high
number of unique visitors each month is the statistic that gets respect.
Good analysis software will tell you how many pages each visitor viewed and how long they
stayed on your website. The goal is to develop content that gets your visitors to stay
longer, a quality sometimes referred to as "stickiness".
A statistic related to hits is bandwidth. This is a complicated statistic because you
want more visitors and that causes bandwidth to go up. On the other hand, high bandwidth
consumption makes your website repond slower (and most web hosts charge extra for bandwidth
beyond a certain limit). What you want is to design your web pages so they use bandwidth
efficiently, and you want to be on the lookout for people who are stealing your bandwidth
(usually by linking to images on your web site).
Good server log analysis software will provide you with the URLs of the webpages that
people clicked on to get to your website. This is extremely valuable information. If
you are receiving a high volume of traffic from another website, you can almost consider
that website to be your business partner. It would be to your advantage to find ways
to make your website more useful to the referring website. For example, learn what the
topic of the referring website is and place more related content on your website.
One common method of aiding referrers is to place a reciprocal link on your website.
However, don't bother placing the reciprocal link on a "links" page with hundreds of
other links (a link farm). If you can't provide an honest reciprocal link, it's better
to do nothing. An honest reciprocal link might be a page containing a review of the
referrer's website, and that page should contain only a few other links.